Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Where Is “The Fiscal Sanity Caucus” In Congress Today?

Make This The Senate and House Chicken Caucus

There are 16 caucuses in the US House of Representatives. 

  • Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) – Progressive Democrats
  • Medicare for All Caucus – Progressive Democrats
  • New Democrat Coalition (NDC) – Modern Liberal/Centrist Democrats
  • Blue Dog Coalition (BDC) – Conservative Democrats
  • Blue Collar Caucus – Pro-labor and Alter-globalization Democrats
  • Expand Social Security Caucus (ESSC) – Progressive Democrats
  • Tuesday Group (TG) – Moderate Republicans
  • Republican Main Street Partnership (MSP) – Moderate Republicans
  • Republican Study Committee (RSC) – Conservative Republicans
  • Liberty Caucus (LC) – Libertarian Republicans
  • Freedom Caucus (FC) – Conservative Republicans affiliated with the Tea Party movement
  • The Congressional Black Caucus for African-Americans
  • The Congressional Hispanic Caucus for Hispanic Democrats
  • The Congressional Hispanic Conference for Hispanic Republicans
  • The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus
Note none of these caucuses is called “The Fiscal Sanity Caucus”. Or “The Balanced Budget Caucus”. Or the “We Came To Do What Adults Are Supposed To Do Caucus” which is manage our nation’s finances in a responsible mature process.

Not one single caucus named above has done anything to reduce federal spending over the past 18 years. Many have opined or whined about the deficit and blamed “the other side” for not co-operating on reducing the national debt. However, no legislator, committee, party or caucus gets any credit unless legislation passes both the Senate and the House and gets signed into law by the President.

That is the way it works in our American constitutional democratic republic. The road to fiscal hell is paved with good intentions…and lack of principled leadership.

The last Congress that oversaw a balanced budget was in 2001—pre-9/11 that is. Four balanced budgets from 1998-2001 was the result of work done starting in 1990, revved up in the House Budget Committee in 1993 and finalized in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.

Since 2001, the national debt has exploded from $5.8 trillion to over $22 trillion today. Tax revenues have increased from $2 trillion to $3.4 trillion since 2000, a 70% increase during a time of historically low inflation.

However, spending has gone up from $1.7 trillion to over $4 trillion, a 135% increase since 2000.

The problem with debt accumulation is spending. Not taxation. We have more debate about taxation, though, than spending.

Why? Because cutting taxes is fun. Cutting spending is painful. Spending more of your money is great fun, especially to those who love more government control of everything.

The problem is manifold. Members always blame everyone else for their inability to lead on cutting spending. Their collective lack of understanding of basic principles of arithmetic coupled with no apparent understanding of economics and accounting is self-evident on a daily basis. They simply do not know how to lead by brokering deals and compromises that produce less-than-perfect solutions but they put the brakes on spending nonetheless.

History will not remember any of them well. There are no “Profiles in Courage” to write about when it comes to fiscal discipline since 2001.

Balancing the budget is not that hard. Even a caveman like me can do it. So can every person reading this opinion piece as long as they know how to subtract.

In 1993, former budget staffer Greg Hampton and I found $177 billion in spending savings over 5 years from the baseline in Medicare and Medicaid alone and helped my boss, former Congressman Alex McMillan of Charlotte, get it into a document supported by 15 GOP House Budget Committee Members called ‘Cutting Spending First’. We were 85 seats in the minority at the time and Republicans had not controlled Congress since 1955.

Republicans took over Congress in 1994. $135 billion of those proposals made their way into the landmark 1997 Budget Act which led to the only balanced budgets we will see in our lifetimes if things don’t change very soon.

If any Member of Congress or Senator wants to start “The Fiscal Sanity Caucus”, call me. You can be an Army of One at least to start.

(first published in North State Journal 5/10/19)

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